Pregnancy: Walking, swimming, stretching are great for fitness in any trimester

A good pair of walking or running shoes and a comfortable swimming suit are a pregnant woman's best friends during her 40 weeks of pregnancy.

Walking, swimming and stretching are exercises that transcend all three trimesters. They're low impact and inexpensive. They're great for women just starting fitness programs, too.

If you're a die-hard runner, you probably can keep running for several months after you become pregnant. Many women find they must slow their jogging as their bellies get bigger.

All programs should incorporate moves that increase flexibility in the thighs (front, back and inner), calves, gluteus maximus, upper and lower back, neck, arms and shoulders.

Low-impact aerobics, on land and in the pool, are great sources of exercise for pregnant women, as are yoga and dancing -- just stay away from the smoky clubs.

Avoid the following activities:

Scuba diving. You might feel as big as a whale, but now isn't the time to try swimming like one. Diving can create dangerous gas bubbles in your baby's circulatory system.

Soccer, hockey, basketball, football -- pretty much any sport that involves collisions. Even the soccer moms from the U.S. World Cup team took time off for their growing babies.

Horseback riding. Stay off horses, even if you're a good rider. You can't risk a fall. If you really want to ride, get your significant other to buy you a Mustang.

Skiing. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology doesn't like pregnant women skiing at any time. I'm a bit more lax: If your nonpregnant body is used to double black diamonds, then your first-trimester pregnant body should do fine at the bottom of the bunny slopes. After the first trimester, sit at the lodge and sip hot chocolate.

There will be some extreme cases of women able to do a lot while pregnant: A buddy of mine taught high-intensity aerobics classes until the day she delivered and was back teaching eight days after her healthy boy was born.

Another woman competed in bodybuilding competitions 24 weeks into her pregnancy. But, remember, those are extreme cases.

The following are good resistance training exercises broken down by trimester. For video clips demonstrating some of these exercises, go to health.coloradosprings.com.

First trimester

Many women in their first trimesters can continue doing the same exercises they did before the pregnancy, including:

Modified push-ups (or military style)
Biceps curls
Triceps extensions
Shoulder shrugs and shoulder presses
Shoulder raises (lateral and frontal)
Upright rows
Squats (using a therapeutic ball)
Lunges
Calf raises
Step-ups (with a small bench)
Core-body bridges (or planks)
Adductors and abductors (inner and outer thigh raises)

Second trimester

Because of the increased blood in the body, some pregnant women are uncomfortable standing while performing exercises.

Therapeutic balls and exercise benches (for sitting on, not lying on) work well in alleviating pressure. The therapeutic ball also works well in incorporating the stabilization muscles.

From the seated position, the pregnant woman can do biceps curls, triceps extensions, shoulder shrugs, raises and presses, adductors and abductors, seated stability exercises, leg extensions (with no weight), ball rolls, calf raises, and if the feeling is right, squats and lunges.

Just get off your feet after each set.

Third trimester

By this point, a woman's growing belly can hamper a lot of resistance training. Pregnant women might feel clumsier, and sleeping problems can sap her energy.

Still, it's easy to perform biceps curls, triceps extensions, shoulder shrugs, raises and presses, adductors and abductors, seated stability exercises, and ball rolls.

I'd suggest getting in the pool for lower-body work. Actually, pool exercises work the entire body, but one can focus on the lower body.

Postpartum

First, understand that the body just went through 40 weeks of changes. Only in extreme cases does a woman return to her pre-pregnancy form in a matter of weeks.

Even the incredibly in-shape aerobics instructor mentioned above took about six weeks to regain her flat tummy.

Want to lose weight now? Sure you do. Here's a secret: breast- feeding.

A new mom who breastfeeds needs as much as 500 calories a day to produce milk.

Mothers who bottle-feed would have to run almost five miles a day or ride a bike uphill for an hour every day to get the same metabolic effect as breast-feeding, according to a 1989 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In other words, breast-feeding mothers, on average, lose more weight faster and keep it off better than moms who use formula.

The best way to start a postpartum resistance program is to work backward through your trimesters. Perform the exercise you did a week before the birth as soon as you're able to leave the birth center.

You can immediately start walking and swimming again. Within a few days, incorporate the resistance training exercises, too.

Combine the breast-feeding and aerobic and resistance exercises with smart eating and you'll leave the fit pregnancy behind and become a fit mom.

Here are some books worth looking at:

Buff Moms-to-Be: The Complete Guide to Fitness for Expectant Mothers by Sue Fleming.

Pregnancy Fitness: Mind Body Spirit by Ginny Graves.

Expecting Fitness: How To Modify And Enjoy Your Exercise Program Throughout Your Pregnancy by Birgitta Gallo.

The Everything Pregnancy Fitness Book: Safe, Specially Tailored Exercises for Before and After Delivery by Robin Elise-Weiss.

Exercising Through Your Pregnancy by James F. Clapp.

Your Pregnancy Quick Guide: Fitness and Exercise: What You Need to Know About Staying in Shape During Your Pregnancy by Glade B. Curtis and Judith Schuler.

Denise Austin's Ultimate Pregnancy Book by Denise Austin.


Milo F. Bryant's fitness column appears in the Colorado Springs Gazette. Bryant has a National Strength and Conditioning Association certification. He also writes Gazette sports columns. Contact him at mbryant@gazette.com.


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